For me, it clicked on 22 July 2005, when armed officers shot Jean Charles de Menezes. It wasn’t merely the shooting itself; it was the way, in the days that followed, officers made a series of claims that eyewitnesses maintained were untrue. That the suspect had jumped the ticket barriers. That he had moved threateningly towards the police. That they had shouted out a warning before firing. It felt like the force was less concerned with justice than it was with covering up its mistakes.
The senior officer overseeing the operation that day, incidentally, was one Cressida Dick.
Many Londoners – perhaps I should say “white, middle-class Londoners”; those of us who had the privilege of being able to believe otherwise in the first place – have had a similar moment, when they began to question whether the Metropolitan Police were actually on their side. For some it will have been the 2009 death of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor who made the mistake of getting close enough to a protest to be attacked, on film, by a police officer; that event, too, was followed by a tide of misinformation.
For others it will have been getting tear-gassed or kettled – trapped, against their will, for hours – at a protest in the early 2010s. Or the shooting of Mark Duggan, the event that sparked the 2011 riots. Or hearing Dawn Butler – a Labour MP – describe being stopped and questioned, merely because the friend she was with had committed the suspicious act of driving an expensive car while black.
Even by the Met’s own inglorious standards, though, it has had a torrid 12 months. We’ve had multiple reports of the racist and misogynist language officers use privately about the people they’re supposed to be protecting, about jokes concerning domestic violence, about failures to deal with an internal culture of bullying and sexual harassment. Last year, the force’s leadership declared that they did not recognise Wayne Couzens as one of their own, even though it was his very status as a police officer that had allowed him to abduct and kill Sarah Everard in the first place. A crowd of women held a vigil in her memory on Clapham Common; the Met responded by breaking it up and violently pinning attendees to the ground.
The force clearly has little appetite for reform. When the independent inquiry into the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan described the force as institutionally corrupt last year, its commissioner Cressida Dick simply denied it and declined to resign. No politician, as best one can tell, has pressured her to do otherwise.
London needs police; but it needs police that are on the side of its residents, and sees itself as answerable to them. If the Metropolitan Police – a strange, hybrid beast, responsible not just for policing the capital but for counter-terrorism and assorted matters of national security – can’t do that job, then perhaps London should have a new police force, with fresh leadership, and with responsibility for the exciting but distracting matters of national security dealt with elsewhere.
The phrase “one bad apple” is much misused. The point is not that you can root out such apples: the rot inevitably spreads, and you need to dispose of the barrel. We have ample evidence that the Metropolitan Police force has long since passed this threshold. It should be replaced.
[See also: The Met’s toxic subcultures are no accident]